Growing up, I was never a fan of leafy greens. Therefore, I was never a fan of spring rolls.
At a Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) fundraiser, I took my first bite of a spring roll in almost eight years and realized they aren’t that bad. In fact, I often find myself craving them now, especially as the good weather and sun slowly make a comeback.
Spring roll in Vietnamese is gỏi cuốn, literally translated to “salad roll.” Throughout history, Vietnamese people have come up with different variations of the spring roll, and I thought it would be nice to share a few of my favorite rolls with you!
The Original – Gỏi Cuốn
When my parents prepare gỏi cuốn, they use rice paper, pork, shrimp, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, mint, and fish sauce to dip. The fish sauce is mixed with garlic, sugar, and citrus. My dad likes to use boiled pineapple and fresh lemons for the citrus flavor, which I think is the best way to enjoy gỏi cuốn. When I’m in Santa Cruz, my housemates like to add cucumber, carrots, and bean sprouts into the mix. They also prefer dipping their rolls in peanut sauce.
I think the trick to the perfect gỏi cuốn is the ratio and the filling placement. I’m a big texture person, so I add both carrots and cucumbers for an additional crunch and to balance out the softness of the noodles and protein. I also prefer placing my lettuce and protein on the outside to help secure the noodles when rolling the rice paper.
Pro tip: to rehydrate your rice paper faster, use warm water to dip it in.
My Favorite – Bò Bía
Bò bía will always be one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. Similar to spring rolls, bò bía uses rice paper on the outside, and comes with a peanut dipping sauce. It’s usually filled with steamed jicama, Chinese sausage (lạp xưởng), eggs, and Thai basil. When my parents are feeling fancy, they’ll add crushed dried shrimp inside.
Pro tip: use the fat from the Chinese sausage to fry the eggs.
My Brother’s Favorite – Gỏi Cuốn Nem Nướng
Nem nướng is a Vietnamese grilled pork sausage. This is the perfect roll variation for those who enjoy meat, like my brother. I also enjoy gỏi cuốn nem nướng, especially when restaurants add a stick of fried egg roll wrappers inside for an extra crunch. Gỏi cuốn nem nướng typically has lettuce, pickled carrots, and pickled daikon in addition to the pork sausage. People usually dip these in fish sauce, similar to traditional spring rolls.
The best part about making spring rolls at home is that you can customize them. The last time my housemates and I made spring rolls, we made ingredients for both bò bía and gỏi cuốn, and created a build-your-own spring roll bar. We had everyone try one of each roll, and then everyone customized their own rolls using the steps above as a base.
Here’s a basic recipe to get you started.
- Dip your rice paper in warm water and place on a plate to dry.
- Grab two pieces of shrimp and two pieces of pork and place them in the center of your rice paper. I like to alternate my proteins in a horizontal line.
- Take a single piece of lettuce and place on top of the protein. Add any other desired vegetables and herbs. I use one to two sticks of carrot and cucumbers each, as well as a few mint leaves.
- Place a small handful of vermicelli noodles over the vegetables.
- Now time to roll. First, fold the top and bottom of the rice paper inward. This will secure the ends of the roll. Then, roll from left to right. Some people compare this part to rolling a burrito. Just be careful of pulling the rice paper so tight that it rips.
- Finally, enjoy your spring roll! Don’t forget to dip it in your sauce of choice. If you want to spice things up, you can add sriracha or some crushed Thai chili.